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Why newspapers are going bankrupt

July 29th, 2009 by Conor Lastowka · 48 Comments

Yes, yes, you might read any number of commentaries about why the decline of the newspaper happened so rapidly . But nobody is addressing the key issue: that the comics used to look like THIS:


And now look like this:


Let’s take a closer look at the Katzenjammer Kids comic (the Born Loser strip is best left ignored, lest you descend into madness wondering how someone has convinced a business that is going bankrupt to pay him for this type of thing everyday for several decades.  Also, a true story, probably over a decade ago, I wrote one of the only Letters to the Editor I’ve ever written, to the Washington Post, imploring them to cancel The Born Loser.)

This was the first Katzenjammer Kids cartoon I came across in a Google Image search, so I have no idea whether the insanity depicted in it is more over the top than your typical Katzenjammer Kids comic.  I will assume that it is a middle of the road strip, just because if that turns out to be true, it means that the crazy ones must have been really crazy.

panel 1

Panel 1: The Katzenjammer Kids come across The Captain, who is laid up in a wheelchair with a broken leg. He is passed out and snoring.

panel 2

Panel 2:  Their immediate reaction: go and get a caged pig from somewhere on the boat.  Note that there is no discussion about where to obtain a caged pig.  They simply wander off to the area where presumably, pigs in cages are stacked to the ceiling, and borrow one for the afternoon.

panel 3

Panel 3:  The blonde Katzenjammer Kid proposes the course of action to his brother: shoving the pig down some sort of pipe.  The other Kid is shocked. Evidently, he was fine with going along with the plan to drag a pig in a cage out of the pig in a cage storage room, but did not bother to question what they might be doing with the pig.

panel 4

Panel 4:  They flip a coin to decide who has to do the deed.  The Captain’s snoring continues to be amplified to industrial road grader volume.  The pig looks worried. Also, take note of the pigs cage.  Somehow it has been able to turn around a few times already, when in reality, the extreme confined quarters would have rendered his muscle mass a useless, gelatinous goo, unable to support his delicious, bacony frame.

panel 5

Panel 5:  We await the results of the coin flip as the swine, no doubt infested with an impossible number of sea-faring vermin, scratches itself.

panel 6

Panel 6: Evidently the blonde Kid has either won or lost the coin toss and must deposit the pig down the pipe, which he does without a second thought. Now, there is run of the mill school boy mischief, and then there is the kind of mischief where barnyard animals are inserted into duct work.  The latter usually only is perpetrated by children in the comics or by fraternities in college movies as a means to interrupt a speech by the “Crusty Old Dean” archetype.

panel 7

Panel 7:  The pig lands head first, directly on the Captain’s shattered leg, no doubt rebreaking it and causing immense pain in the hobbled old man.  The purpose of the pipe, which would be inaccessible from the ground, remains unclear.

panel 8

Panel 8:  The blonde Kid observes the Captain’s agony with amusement while the other one, without knowing whether or not the pig even survived the fall, prepares to catapult his brother towards the same fate.

panel 9

Panel 9:  Which he does, with a look of demented joy on his face.

panel 10

Panel 10:  The blonde Kid crashes at a high velocity onto the Captain’s still throbbing leg, prompting the exponentially more agonized cry of “Owitch!”  The pig, sensing glorious freedom for the first time in its wretched life, makes its getaway.

panel 11

Panel 11:  Despite the anguish of a twice rebroken leg, the Captain keeps his wits about him long enough to seize his cane and beat the hell out of the Kid. You have to admire the mans singular focus.  After being awoken by a pig re-breaking his leg, he must have been pretty confused and groggy. But then a few seconds later, when someone elses child falls from the sky and re-re-breaks his leg, his immediate reaction is to reach for his cane and rain down blows upon the boys backside. The pig continues to  flee, which is a nice touch, as is the delighted giggling of the beaten boys brother eminating from the pipe whose purpose other than pig/boy conveyance continues to baffle.

panel 12

Panel 12:  The blonde Kid, his ass still smarting from the caning, threatens his terrified brother with a sword as a great white shark looks on, eagerly awaiting a full meal after the appetizer of the confused and panicked pig that no doubt blundered into the water.

Now that is a comic!!!

Tags: RiffTrax · silly

48 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nerf on Jul 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

    It’s about time this blog included in depth analysis of Katzenjammer Kids comics. That was the only thing that was missing.

  • 2 Krud on Jul 29, 2009 at 9:15 am

    I’m surprised Tarantino hasn’t already bid on the movie rights to this compelling storyline. I can already see the “over-the-top action-packed tour de force” blurb.

  • 3 Olcas on Jul 29, 2009 at 9:45 am

    And that is why Irish and English comics, bar superheros, are better.

    Beano, Dandy…Made less sense and were funnier…

  • 4 Kris on Jul 29, 2009 at 11:42 am

    I must find more Katzenjammer Kids. The batsh*t insanity of this strip is like a gift from God.

    Connor, please blog more. This was awesome.

  • 5 starfighter on Jul 29, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    The “Kids” strip would have been a half-page in a Sunday section, huge compared to any newspaper’s section these days, while “The Born Loser” would probably be shrunken to half the size. Comics used to be a selling point for newspapers, now they’re treated as a nuisance, taking up valuable advertising space for ads nobody reads.

  • 6 Y I Slash on Jul 29, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    For most of the years I worked at our local newspaper, the comics page was dictated by the company’s owner. So 5 days a week, the populace was treated to Pluggers, Tumbleweeds, Wizard of ID, Born Loser, Shoe, and For Better or For Worse. His rationale ran thus: FBFW tells a story, Shoe occasionally featured a newsroom, BL reminded him of one of our reporters, and Tumbleweeds was one of the only rural oriented strips available. I can’t account for Pluggers or Wiz.

    At one point, the Denver Post announced they would no longer be running Prince Valiant, and so he decided that our paper needed to do so, so that he could keep up with the story.

    Just one example of newspaper “logic.”

  • 7 Fantagor on Jul 29, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    It was a simpler time, when child endangerment, corporal punishment and randomly caging and releasing pigs were all part of a normal day in the life.


  • 8 John Smith on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I don’t get it. They didn’t eat the delicious pig-bacon?

  • 9 Erica on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I miss Bloom County. Good times.

  • 10 BDiamond on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I find it interesting that Panel 6 implies that the whole cage, pig and all, are going down the ductwork pipe (the cage doesn’t appear to be open), yet in Panel 7, the pig hits the captain’s broken foot sans said cage. Teleportation? A pig who can manipulate a key and a lock? It boggles the mind.

  • 11 BDiamond on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    *is* going down the ductwork, *is* *IS*.

    I hate making simple mistakes like this. The more complex mistakes involve caged pigs.

  • 12 rebisaz on Jul 29, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Aw, me too. That was a hoot. Steve Dallas was so funny. Remember when he went all Alan Alda for a while? Haha!

  • 13 Derekl999 on Jul 29, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    When I was young, Peanuts was the strip above Born Loser for a year … hence me thinking that that was Charlie Brown as an adult.

    Now seeing it while waiting for my pepperjack, guacamole, ham and egg on a plain bagel aka “south of the border” I see it and think:

    How much of a loser is this guy really? I mean, he’s got a nagging wife, a lazy kid, a demanding boss. In this day and age, he managed to snag a woman, pump out a kid AND stay employed? how is he a BORN LOSER? he’d be at LEAST middle of the pack in my neighborhood, where “pretending to fall in walmart” is a viable career option! It’s just a shame that the born loser has no joy or humor in his life,

  • 14 Erica on Jul 29, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I miss Opus!

  • 15 Erica on Jul 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Well depending on where you put your comma, “are” could work too. I don’t think they give demerits for that kind of thing here. I think we’re accepted, grammatical errors and all!

  • 16 Carpeteria on Jul 29, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Josh Fruhlinger beware….

  • 17 Jmaes on Jul 29, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Conor – Well done. I haven’t so enjoyed a panel by panel reading of the comics since my childhood when on a Philly TV station there was an entire Sunday morning TV show where an old guy sat in a chair and read the Sunday “funnies” to the TV audience. The camera would zoom in on the comics, he would read the panels and throw in a few explanatory comments. Exciting stuff! Thanks for the memories.

  • 18 Erica on Jul 29, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    You mean that wasn’t a sugary cereal-induced recurring dream??? Damn, next you’ll tell me Captain Noah was real too…

  • 19 Conor Lastowka on Jul 29, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    You’re right. He’s easily identifiable as a “loser”, but in a very odd sense of the word. More of a George Costanza sort than a “guy you step over on the way to your own job” sort.

  • 20 Erica on Jul 29, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Ah, but isn’t it his lack of joy and humor that condemns him within the confines of pretentious society? Perhaps he simply feels too much. A true tragic hero in the Willy Loman tradition.

  • 21 ShutterBun on Jul 29, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Aw shoot, I have to spoil it and be all non-funny, but I’ll just mention that:

    A. keeping live livestock (is that redundant?) on board a ship was quite practical on long voyages, as one didn’t have to worry about spoilage. Simply slaughter Mr. Piggy when you’re good and ready. Spoilage was apparently a big concern, way back when.

    B. the “pipe” is most likely just for ventilation. The curve on top prevents (or at least limits) seawater from spashing into it, flooding the decks below. And in a pinch, it can be used as a hiding spot by Indiana Jones.

    C. all that being said, this strip makes “Dondi” look like high satire by comparison. Agree with the above sentiments: Bloom County was the last truly FUNNY occupant of the “funny pages.”

  • 22 rebisaz on Jul 29, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Conor, that was hilarious. Thanks.

  • 23 Jodi on Jul 29, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I thought the kid was simply using the cage as an instrument for dumping the pig. That way he didn’t have to lift the animal, which surely would have been squirming and trying to get free. Also, he was then able to use the cage as a ladder to see the results of his antics. Win-win!

  • 24 Jodi on Jul 29, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Great post! A friend and I were recently discussing how horribly unfunny most newspaper comics are these days. It’s a shame that so many lame comics (like Cathy, Marmaduke, and Born Loser) are in print while there are many truly entertaining webcomics.

  • 25 chrismartindeed on Jul 30, 2009 at 3:00 am

    Sorry, but television has killed the newspaper… and the newspaper comic.

    All the elements in the Katzenjammer comic (crippling injury, animal abuse, sibling brutality, witless pranks, etc) can be seen for free on America’s Funniest Home Videos or one of its clones. No one has the pay the newspaper chains a single bloody dime.

    To compete, modern comic strips try to mimic the primary ingredient of the typical tv program: static shots of people yapping away. In essence, the strips have become a form graphic radio.

    Which is why ending the Renaissance Period was Mankind’s biggest mistake.

  • 26 BEMaven on Jul 30, 2009 at 3:24 am

    Yes, but the premise is still wildly implausible.

    Real children do not say ‘Tee-Hee!’… not even the criminally insane ones. They say ‘Hee-Hee!’

    The only person I ever knew to utter ‘Tee-Hee!’ was a waitress at Hooters. It was a rare side effect of her breast augmentation surgery.

  • 27 jack the autumn on Jul 30, 2009 at 3:37 am

    One day, long ago a syndicate mogul asked himself:

    “What’s the harm in publishing Ziggy?”

    And Satan laughed.

  • 28 Wook on Jul 30, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Why are there chubby scamps running around loose on a ship in the first place? Do they get the Kenny/Gamera authority exemption?

    The Captain is obviously confined to quarters, since that wheelchair isn’t going up those stairs (or up the pipe, or through the porthole). Keeping that beard in a small space for any period of time probably makes it smell like a barnyard. The kids’ confusion is understandable.

  • 29 Killvore on Jul 30, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I postulate that the Captain may be suffering from gout, rather than be nursing a broken leg. The cast only covers his foot, and he is frequently depicted next to alcoholic beverages. The middle-aged alcoholic man with gout was a staple of light-hearted comedy around the turn of the century.

  • 30 Chris D. on Jul 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Other than “Peanuts”, “The Far Side” and “Calvin & Hobbes” there are no truly great comic strips. And no “Doonesbury” is not a good comic strip.

  • 31 jfe on Jul 30, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Right now I’m crazy about the new adventures of queen victoria, its online as newspapers won’t run it (I guess they are not amused). A few weeks ago they did a MST type of cartoon with three characters riffing the strip. I believe it was a rerun so it was probably mentioned before. Just ignore the born loser, Mr. Lastowka some of us can relate to a fellow born loser. And I’m glad the bad kid got a spanking I’m sure the brother will survive otherwise the strip would be called the Katzenjammer kid.

  • 32 Erica on Jul 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Well, I have to admit, I like “Mutts,” but that’s cause I’m an animal person. Cat and Dog cuteness is my weakness.

  • 33 BDiamond on Jul 30, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Ah, but as I noted, the cage doesn’t *appear* to be open in Panel 6. *Appear*. It should be a bit more visual, considering the medium, rather than having to infer that it is open.

    Or maybe I’m just being nitpickingly hardheaded and literal.

    Or something like that.

  • 34 Wook on Jul 31, 2009 at 5:40 am

    I think I remember a strip called “Bringing Up Father” in which the main character (Father, I’d guess) frequently suffered from gout. Hilarious.

    Not really though.

  • 35 Wook on Jul 31, 2009 at 5:41 am

    “Get Fuzzy” makes me larf. Sadly, comics have become so small that I need magnifying lenses to read them. This does not make me larf.

  • 36 Blue Raja on Aug 2, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I’m still rolling on the floor from the “what if I’m left-handed” bit…, that was classic. ‘Cuz, see, a right-hand man is one thing, but being LEFT-handed in the process? Pure genius. And then the reaction on the boss’s face!?

    I’m gonna use that on all the guys at work – they’ll get a kick out of that one.

    “Left-handed”….ha ha. Whew boy, can’t get enough of that stuff. Not at all lame or elementary school-level humor.

  • 37 Earl Fando on Aug 4, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I for one am surprised the Katzenjammer Kids lived as long as they did. For completely different reasons, I’m surprised the Born Loser has lived as long as he did…has…is. Well, he can’t last long now, can he?

    I miss Charlie Brown, Calvin, Opus (the good years, I mean) and Krazy Kat, too.

  • 38 Neb on Aug 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    That “scoop” is indeed a passive ventilation device. It faces forward, to deliver fresh air to the deck below (there should be another one further aft, facing aft, to allow stale air to exit).

    This nautical trivia moment brought to you by the Steelhead Naval Service (we’re in Second Life, which makes this even MORE nerdy).

  • 39 IMAO » Blog Archive » Links of the Day. Part 1. on Aug 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    [...] Wonder why newspapers are going bankrupt? Go find out. [...]

  • 40 Peter on Aug 6, 2009 at 1:58 am

    That “inexplicable ductwork ” was indeed for ventilation. No cabin close to or under the waterline, could have windows open to the breeze.

    As noted above, the curve is to limit seawater and rain (yes it rains at sea) from flooding the joint.

    Sound travels quite well through those pipes (I used to know the name of them, I lost a lot in a stroke a while back) but I remember touring an old freighter when I was a boy and standing by one, and hearing the coversations below deck, clear as a bell.

  • 41 shimauma on Aug 6, 2009 at 5:18 am

    LOL! and here I thought newspapers were going bankrupt because they spew nothing but leftard rhetoric! See that Katzenjammer thing wouldn’t work these days as the captain would have been thrown in jail for disciplining the little hooligans.

  • 42 OlliverOfTerreHaute on Aug 9, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    A German named Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908) wrote and illustrated a poem called “Max und Moritz with many more mischief makers more or less human or approxamately animal”, the basis for The Katzenjammer Kids. Dover sells the book, ISBN 0-486-20181-3 for about a sawbuck the text includes the original German and English translation.

  • 43 Jennifer on Aug 21, 2009 at 8:07 am

    I had to stop reading this blog entry twice, for the following reasons:
    1. I went to the bathroom b/c otherwise I was laughing so hard I would have done so in my pants, and
    2. I had to take a funny break because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t handle any more funny at the moment.

    Thank you for this.

  • 44 防犯カメラ on Apr 19, 2011 at 12:11 am

    ペン型 ビデオカメラ:

  • 45 The Born Loser « 代码小猴子 on Jul 4, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    [...]   Comments 有人觉得The Born Loser画得太简单,简直是抢钱:   这个网页里有些有趣的评论: For most of the years I worked at our local newspaper, [...]

  • 46 ブランド 腕時計 on Aug 23, 2011 at 2:11 am へようこそ。当社は2004年に設立され、2006年にインターネットマーケティング事業にコミットされました。 の大きな需要が常にあり、よく販売している。最近、我々はいくつかの新しいsac à mainして、当社のウェブサイト上でそれらを更新。ここでは見つけることができるいくつかの稀少ある、他のウェブサイトから見つけることは困難れた。NBAジャージはhotsaleで常にもです。

  • 47 David Gerstein on Aug 30, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Working presently on a Katzenjammer Kids collection book for a European publisher, I interrupt my labor to note—this might be the single greatest review of the strip that I’ve seen anywhere online.